I have my issues with social media (don’t we all) but there are times when I appreciate ~ even enjoy ~ it. Like when a spontaneous cookie exchange breaks out on Facebook.
That is what happened to Linda, Adri, Marie and me a couple of weeks ago. One minute we were all commenting on a thread (I can’t remember what it was about other than ~ obviously ~ cookies). The next next minute Linda had taken the reins and sent an email around organizing the specifics of an Italian Girls Cookie Exchange. Within a few days, three boxes arrived at my door, each containing not just cookies, but beautifully packaged cookies, nestled in candy-striped tissue paper and layered in tins tied with festive red ribbons.
Over the years I have participated in some good cookie exchanges and some bad cookie exchanges. The worst was a work exchange back when I was a newspaper reporter. Among the underwhelming inventory I took home (yes I AM an ungrateful cookie snob) was something called the “hamburger” cookie, made with a thin mint and red, yellow and green-dyed coconut flakes sandwiched between two ‘Nilla wafers. I had traded homemade triple ginger biscotti for this? Incredibly, given the number of “hamburger” cookie pins on Pinterest, it appears these heinous creations are still popular.
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The best cookie exchanges I’ve participated have always included bakers of Italian extraction. We Italians love our Christmas cookies, and it’s hard to beat us for variety, not to mention volume. There were years when ~ between my mother, my sister and me ~ there were no fewer than 15 different types of cookies on our Christmas cookie platter.
So I had high hopes for this exchange, and I was not disappointed. Here’s what was in those three packages:
* From Linda, Italian Christmas “brownies” glazed with lemon icing (pictured above on the left)
* From Marie, cucidati, a traditional Sicilian cookie with fig filling (bottom right)
My contribution was the cranberry-hazelnut biscotti pictured at the top of this post. It’s adapted from a recipe in my forthcoming book Ciao Biscotti, which is being published in March. Here’s a shot of the cover, which is so sweet it makes my heart leap:
In addition to cranberry-nut biscotti (the version in the book calls for pistachios), Ciao Biscotti has recipes ranging from traditional almond to chocolate-dipped toasted coconut, and from iced triple lemon to iced green tea. There’s a chapter devoted to chocolate biscotti and one devoted to savory biscotti. You can imagine what a burden it was to write this book. While it’s not yet for sale, you can, if you are so inclined, pre-order it on Amazon ~ that way you’ll be ready next Christmas should a spontaneous cookie exchange break out in your virtual world.
More cookies! Here’s a recipe for fig and fennel biscotti that I contributed to The Washington Post Food Section’s annual cookie extravaganza. What’s on your holiday cookie plate? Please feel free to share links, recipes and ideas in the comments section. Cheers, Domenica
This holiday combination of tart cranberries, nuts and orange zest has become a classic over the last couple of decades. Most recipes call for pistachios, for their green hue. Here I've swapped them out for hazelnuts, which have a rich, toasty flavor that contrasts nicely with the cranberries. Adapted from Ciao Biscotti, by Domenica Marchetti (2015 Chronicle Books).
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
- Finely grated zest of 1 organic orange, plus 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed juice
- 1/2 cup toasted, skinned hazelnuts (see NOTE)
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, at cool room temperature
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
- A few drops of half-and-half or milk, as needed
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat an 11-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with the oil.
Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly on low. Set aside 1/4 teaspoon of the orange zest. Add the remaining zest, hazelnuts and cranberries to the bowl and mix briefly on low. Distribute the butter around the bowl and mix on medium-low until the mixture looks like damp sand. Pour in the eggs and 1 tablespoon orange juice. Mix on medium until a soft, slightly sticky dough has formed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Divide in half. Lightly moisten your hands with oil or cold water and gently roll one portion of the dough into a rough oval. Place it lengthwise on one side of the baking sheet and stretch and pat it into a log about 2 1/2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Shape the second piece of dough in the same way, moistening your hands as necessary and setting it next to the first log. Press down lightly on the logs to flatten them out a bit.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and just set ~ they should be springy to the touch, with cracks on the surface. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack to cool. Use an offset spatula to loosen the logs from the baking sheet. Let the logs cool 5 minutes, then transfer them to the rack and let cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.
Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and, using a Santoku or serrated bread knife, cut them on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut-side-up, on the baking sheet (in batches if necessary) and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake another 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the slices to the rack to cool completely.
Place the rack over a rimmed baking sheet or a sheet of wax paper. Arrange the slices cut-side up on the rack. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar with the remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice and the reserved 1/4 teaspoon orange zest until the icing is smooth and opaque, but still loose enough to drizzle. If necessary, dribble in a few drops of half-and-half to get the right consistency.
Dip the tip of the whisk or a fork into the icing and drizzle back and forth over the biscotti. Let the icing dry completely before serving. The biscotti will keep for up to 10 days in a tightly lidded tin stored at room temperature.
To toast and skin hazelnuts: Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the shelled nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 10 minutes or until the skins begin to crackle. Wrap the hot nuts in a clean kitchen towel and let stand about 1 minute. Roll the nuts back and forth in the towel to loosen and rub off the skins. Not all the skins will come off, which is fine.